Second star to the right and straight on till morning

Over the next couple of nights, if you look to the east between midnight and three am (British Summer Time) you will have the opportunity to see a Perseid meteor shower. In August every year the earth passes through the debris field of the Comet Swift Turtle in its 133 year orbit of the sun.

This year the best forecasted day to see the meteor shower is the morning of the 13th of August. The expected rate of meteors this year is expected to be around tweleve an hour. There around 64 meteor shows a year and the Perseid is generally considered one of the best of them.

Where will it be?

The meteor shower will be in the eastern sky between the hours of midnight and Three am the time after the Perseus constellation rises. To find the constellation look at the night sky and find d Orion and its three star belt. Following Orion’s right arm, look up and you will see the constellation of Taurus and you are nearly there. Above Taurus you will find the Perseus constellation. This is area that meteor shower will fall.

Catch a shooting star.

To capture a meteor shower you will need a few things. Firstly a fully charged camera which has manual exposure control and a manual focus lens (even take extra batteries to make sure you don’t run out of power), Secondly a sturdy tripod, and thirdly (not a necessity as there is a work around.) a cable release or remote control. I would also recommend taking a pair of warm socks and a thermos flask of coffee or hot chocolate.

If you don’t have a cable release you can use the cameras in built timer to take the picture. What you don’t want to be doing is pressing the release the whole exposure time because even on a tripod it will cause a small shake to the camera and the exposures are not going to be short.

When thinking about catching your shooting star you need to think about where you are and light pollution. The best places to take pictures of the meteor showers are far away from cities and artificial light. Although you can watch shooting stars in the city the best way to capture photographically is with a black sky.

Visible in the background are numerous meteors bright enough to be seen over the city light, during this long exposure photograph at the time of Leonid meteor shower peak on 2001 November 18. Local observers reported an average of over one meteor per second during this outburst! Kwon, O Chul – AstroKorea.com/kwon572

 

Camera set up.

Set up your camera with your tripod and a fast wide angle lens. I would recommend a 21mm/f2.8 lens. The reason for using a wide angel lens is that although you know roughly where the shower should be you can’t accurately say in what area of the sky. Using a wide angle lens means you can frame a large field of view and the odds of catching a shooting star will be increased. You should also manually focus to infinity to take your pictures to make the meteors sharp.

When you compose your shot try not to have just sky in your frame because you will end up with an image of streaking stars and hopefully a meteor. Star trails are something you can’t combat against because you will need to shoot using long exposures the spin of the earth will create a streaking effect as the positions of the starts move in the frame. Try to add something in the foreground as a silhouette to try to draw your eye to the sky and your meteors.

For your ISO Setting you will need to make a choice as there are two trains of thought. One is to use a high ISO. By using a high setting means shorter exposure time and fewer star trails, but using a high ISO means more noise in the image. The other thought is to use a low ISO, the low ISO means you will have a less noisy image but longer exposures meaning more streaking stars.

Star trails captured during the Quadrantid meteor shower, which took place Jan. 3 to Jan. 4, as seen from the base of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Shot while facing away from city lights. (10 minute exposure). (Chris Carruth)

EAST POINT LIGHTHOUSE STAR TRAILS / METEORS
© JACK FUSCO 

Shutter Speed

To take a picture of the night’s sky means your camera is not the more intelligent of the two of you. The camera will not be able to give an accurate reading. There is a simple equation to work out your rough exposure time. For a 35mm camera it is; 600/focal length = shutter speed. If I was to use my 15mm lens it would be 600/15= 40s (seconds). You should always use your fastest aperture (your lowest setting). Your exposure this can be adjusted in the field by trial and error by changing the ISO up or down to lighten or darken the exposure. If your exposure is to dark higher the ISO if it is too light lower it.

Within your exposure time you may not capture any meteors, so there are two options to try and up your chances. One is to try and shoot longer exposure times to give a greater chance of getting a meteor though this will also mean your star trails will be longer. The other is to keep your exposure time and shoot, shoot, shoot, over the three hour window.

Having star trails are an artistic and aesthetic choice and if you haven’t caught any meteors will give you some great images anyway.

John Stetson, an example of star trails

John Stetson, an example of no star trails.

One chance, one shot?

This is not your only opportunity to capture a meteor shower there are roughly 21 meteor showers a year but the best are the Perseids which is this weekend and the Leonids which is normally around the 17th of November. These two showers are the most visible and have the higher frequency of meteors. Once every 33 years Leonids can create a meteor storm which can have Thousands of meteors an hour.

The image above is a montage of eighty-six separate thirty-second exposures taken on Woodbine Beach in the early hours of Tuesday morning during the Leonid meteor shower. (Each image was loaded into Photoshop and blended with the images below it to build up the star trails and reveal the meteors.) Over the three-quarters of an hour it took to accumulate the photographs, the camera caught five meteors, enough to show how they radiate out from the constellation Leo—from which the shower gets its name. Away from the pollution of city lights, more meteors would have been visible. By Miles Stroney

 

I hope to be out taking pictures tonight but the weather is working against me, the forecast is for clear skies but at the moment it doesn’t look good. I hope you have a chance to get out and take some great images.

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